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Route approved for relocated Olympic marathon

A route has been approved for the Olympic marathon, which is to be held in the northern city of Sapporo to avoid the Japanese capital’s summer heat, Tokyo 2020 organisers said Friday.

A dummy-run marathon will take place on May 5 to test the circuit, which starts and ends at Sapporo Odori Park in the city centre, the organising committee said.

The controversial decision to relocate the marathon and race-walking events was made in November 2019, before the Games were postponed by a year due to the coronavirus.

The Tokyo Olympics are now due to open in July 2021, and officials are insisting they will go ahead even if the pandemic is not under control.

The marathon will have three laps — the first much longer, crossing the Toyohira River, while the second and third laps repeat a section of the first.

“Sapporo has a rich background in road running, particularly marathon events, and we want to inspire… fans around the world to travel to Sapporo for its future mass races,” said Jakob Larsen, competition and events director for World Athletics, which has approved the route.

It is not exactly the same route as the annual Hokkaido Marathon in the city, but “it does follow much of the traditional course”, he added.

Olympic officials first proposed moving the marathon after disastrous scenes at the 2019 Doha World Athletics Championships, where dozens of athletes needed medical attention in hot and humid conditions.

It became a major sticking point between Tokyo officials and the International Olympics Committee, but eventually the city gave its grudging support for the move.

New test event dates in April and May for para-athletics and wheelchairs were also announced on Friday.

Most of the test events — which function as dress rehearsals for each sport, and will also be used to assess anti-coronavirus measures and contingency plans — had already taken place before the Games were delayed in March.

But more than a dozen remain to be held, with fans and foreign athletes allowed at some. It is not yet clear whether spectators will attend the marathon test event.

Japan has seen a relatively small coronavirus outbreak overall, with more than 2,500 deaths and 170,000 confirmed cases.

But it is now battling a third wave of the respiratory disease, reporting record numbers of daily infections nationwide.

Sapporo is in the Hokkaido region, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus.

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